Sunday, June 30, 2013

Film Forum & Rooftop Films partner with Socrates Sculpture Park Outdoor Cinema, for 8-Week Int'l Summer Fest to begin 7/3

Film Forum programmers Karen Cooper and Mike Maggiore have selected six of the eight films for the Socrates Sculpture Park Outdoor Cinema film festival this summer, with the other two coming via Dan Nuxoll and Mark Elijah Rosenberg of Rooftop Films. The series, to which admission is FREE, begins this Wednesday, July 3, and is presented by Socrates Sculpture Park and AT&T. The annual international festival, now celebrating its 15th anniversary, features open-air cinema, music, dance and food -- held in the 5-acre waterfront park in Long Island City, Queens.

Outdoor Cinema 2013 features eight weeks of movies shown under the stars, Wednesday evenings, July 3 through August 21. While New York City hosts many outdoor movie series, this festival distinguishes itself by its critically acclaimed, international array of titles. This summer's lineup includes work from Chad, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Mexico, Romania, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States. The films are presented in their original language with English subtitles. Each evening features regional cuisine from neighborhood restaurants and performances by local musicians and dancers that celebrate the culture of the film's country of origin.

This year's film subjects range from Richard Nixon (top) and pro baseball (Sugar, below) to a glorious father-son vacation on the coast of Mexico (above) and a new film from Romania (at left) which I beieve is having its U.S. premiere here under the stars. Pre-screening performances take place at 7:00pm and films begin at sunset (weather permitting). Admission to films and performances is free of charge. The evening's food and performance line-up is announced the week prior on the park's web site: "All these years, notes Film Forum's Karen Cooper, "we've been committed to the 'hardtop,' but now we are pleased to be able to screen some of our favorites from around the world out-of-doors in this glorious park."


(The descriptions below come from the press release 
on this festival. Any additional comments 
by TrustMovies will appear in parentheses/italics.)

July 3: OUR NIXON (U.S.)
Throughout Richard Nixon's presidency, three of his top White House aides obsessively documented their experiences with Super 8 home movie cameras. Young, idealistic, and dedicated, they had no idea that a few years later they'd all be in prison. (Golly: I wonder why we can't say the same about members of this last Bush administration, not to mention all those bankers and Wall Streeters who helped cause our current recession? We once lived in a world that punished criminals. This movie ought to remind us, and how dreadfully, times have changed.) OUR NIXON is an all-archival documentary presenting those home movies for the first time, along with other rare footage, creating an intimate and complex portrait of the Nixon presidency as never seen before. 2013, 84 mins. Directed by Penny Lane. Not Rated. Courtesy of Cinedigm. Programmed by Rooftop Films. 

July 10: A SCREAMING MAN (Chad)
Ironically titled, this drama set in Chad follows the fortunes of Adam, a former swimming champion, now a 60-year-old "pool man" at a tourist hotel. Tensions between Adam and his grown son are exacerbated when the former loses his job to the younger man and his fragile world begins to crumble. The country's endless civil war plays a decisive role in defining the two men's psychic reality in this smart, subtle, and deeply moving story of modern Africa. Winner, Jury Prize, 2010 Cannes Film Festival. 2010, 92 mins. Written & Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. Not Rated. Programmed by Film Forum.

July 17: ALAMAR (Mexico)
A love story between father and son, man and nature, water and sky, ALAMAR is set in the turquoise waters of Banco Chinchorro in the Caribbean, home to thousands of species of fish. The film – somewhere between fiction and documentary – tells the story of a young boy whose divorced parents (Italian mother, Mexican father) make him a child of two worlds. A father transports his urban son to this natural paradise to teach him to dive for lobster and fish for barracuda, spending days on a tiny fishing boat and nights in a reed-roofed cabin that floats atop the water. (TM's earlier review and interview with the filmmaker can be found here.) 2009, 73 mins. Written & Directed by Pedro González-Rubio. Rated G.
Programmed by Film Forum.

July 24: IN ANOTHER COUNTRY (South Korea)
French actress Isabelle Huppert stars (three times!) in this comedy/drama – a triptych set in a Korean seaside town. Huppert plays three different Annes – a successful film director on holiday with a Korean director and his wife; a married woman having an affair with a Korean man; and a recent divorcée whose husband left her for a Korean woman. Three breezy tales of love, lust, and misunderstandings, all peppered by the dimly jovial propositions of one persistent lifeguard. 2012, 89 mins. Written & Directed by Hong Sang-soo. Not Rated. Programmed by Film Forum. 

July 31: DOMESTIC (Romania)
Wonderfully surreal, painfully real – this is the story of children, adults, and animals that live together trying to have a better life, but sometimes death comes unexpectedly. In the bittersweet comedy Domestic, it is all about us – people who eat the animals that they love, and the animals that love people unconditionally. (With no U.S. distribution that I know of, this movie might not be seen again soon, or ever, so you might want to catch it now.) 2013, 82 mins. Directed by Adrian Sitaru. Not Rated.
Programmed by Rooftop Films.

August 7: SUGAR (U.S. / Dominican Republic) Miguel, a Dominican baseball pitcher from the small town of San Pedro De Macorís, single-mindedly focuses on training at a pro baseball academy – as so many in his country do – awaiting his chance to graduate to the minor leagues in the U.S., and to help pull his family out of poverty. At 19, he gets his break – a call-up to spring training for a team in Iowa – but what happens when his game falters? And were all the sacrifices worth it? A beautifully filmed, exquisitely acted drama from Brooklyn filmmakers, Boden & Fleck (HALF NELSON), that takes a bracing new look at a fractured American dream. 2008, 120 mins. Written & Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck. Rated R. Programmed by Film Forum.

August 14: THE GLEANERS AND I (France)
Considered "the grandmother of the New Wave" in France, Agnès Varda melds literary and documentary conventions with the politics of feminism and compassion, and a whimsical touch that is all her own. THE GLEANERS AND I, inspired in part by the Jean-François Millet painting, uses the subject of gleaning (the act of gathering leftovers) to create a warm and witty discourse on, among other things, the nature of consumerist society and the role of creativity in survival. 2000, 82 mins. Directed and narrated by Agnès Varda. Not Rated. Programmed by Film Forum.

August 21: THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (Germany/Turkey)
This drama from the German-born, Turkish-descended filmmaker explores the lives of six characters, including two young women: a Kurdish political activist wanted by the German authorities, and Lotte, a naïve German student who becomes sexually entangled with her. Fassbinder muse, Hanna Schygulla, plays Lotte's suspicious mother in this tale from a new Europe – one in which national boundaries are disappearing as quickly as traditional sexual norms. 2007, 122 mins. Written & Directed by Fatih Akin. Not Rated.
Programmed by Film Forum.

Rain Date: August 28

Socrates Sculpture Park is located at 
32-01 Vernon Blvd (at Broadway) in Long Island City. 

Queens Public Transportation to Socrates Sculpture Park: 
SUBWAY N or Q train to the Broadway stop in Queens and walk eight blocks west on Broadway (toward the East River) to the intersection of Vernon Boulevard. 
BUS Q103, Q104 to Broadway and Vernon Boulevard Q19A to Broadway and 21st Street.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET: M. Resnais' playful masterwork to open in the L.A. area

When the latest film from that French giant of cinema, Alain Resnais, opened here in New York City at the beginning of this month, it received the usual, mostly sterling reviews that this fellow tends to collect (80% positive critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, with 70 % of the audience liking it). Yet the film -- rather deliciously titled YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET -- played but a single week at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan, then beat it out of town. The attendance was not, shall we say, staggering -- and nothing like it would have been back in the 1960s and 70s, when foreign films were in their heyday.

M. Resnais, shown at right, is now 91 years of age, and he just keeps cranking 'em out -- on a schedule, these days, of a film every three years. He's no Woody Allen (in terms of output, or most any other way) but this achievement remains pretty impressive, particularly since his films (with maybe the exception of I Want to Go Homewhich, over-the-top as it is, offers some bold fun) are remarkable, intelligent, surprising and varied. You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet (from here on to be known as YASNT) is all of these things -- and a good deal more. Combining techniques from theatre and film, the movie actually joins the two at times, distilling a particular kind of artifice that, I suspect, no one does better than the French.

The story, such as it is, involves a famous (and imaginary) playwright named Antoine d'Anthac (played by Denis Podalydès, shown at bottom, center) who had suddenly died. His last request is to the set of real actors, famous French men and women who have supposedly worked with and for this guy. They meet at his castle-like home high on a hill, where they learn that he has instructed them to critique a new production of his play Eurydice (actually the play by the famous mid-20th Century French playwright Jean Anouilh, together with material from another of his plays, Cher Antoine ou l'amour raté, with which I am not familiar).

These actors comprise some of the cream of the French stage and film scene, and because they all have played parts in this play previously, now, as they watch the young cast auditioning for the right to perform the play again by presenting a filmed rehearsal, the older crew begins to perform the play themselves -- with great relish and enthusiasm. Except they are far too old for the roles now. And yet, how very well do they perform them!

Anouilh's play is a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice legend, but, ah, what a grown-up version of the myth we have here! It's moral, thought-provoking, moving, and fiercely intelligent as it nails everything from the male's destructive jealousy to the female's need for love at any cost. And in giving us an Orpheus and Eurydice shown in youth, middle age (Lambert Wilson and Anne Consigny, above) and the senior years (Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi, below), Resnais plays with age, theater, film and performance in quite wonderful ways.

Anouilh's play is also about death, the fear and the embracing of it, as well as about life and the fear and embracing of it, too.  (It gives that amazing actor Mathieu Amalric, below, the opportunity to play a superbly intelligent version of Hades, and he seems absolutely born to it.) In all, this is a wonderful work, combining that special French combination of drama, philosophy, romance and artifice. The film, in fact, should send audiences back to the original source.

Meanwhile, we have YASNT to content us. And if this short review makes the movie sound rather special, exotic and for sophisticated tastes -- it is. Being conversant with the classics will help, and if you are initially put off by the artifice, know that, as it moves along, the film grows stronger and more surprising and meaningful.

Resnais' set design of very theatrical rooms adds to the artifice, and his use of split screen  is absolutely first-rate, making the differences between the various Orpheuses and Eurydices shine all the stronger. TrustMovies is delighted that in Los Angeles, the film -- from Kino Lorber and running 115 minutes -- will be opening this coming Friday, July 5, at three venues: Laemmle's Royal, in West L.A., the Town Center 5 in Encino and the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. Click here, then scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Friday, June 28, 2013

THE CALL: Another smart (for awhile) and enjoyable (totally) film from Brad Anderson

Even when it goes off the track in its final quarter, THE CALL still manages to be a lot of fun. Prior to this it has been surpri-singly smart, as well as enjoyable. The latest from not-sung-enough (you can't exactly call him "unsung") director & sometimes writer, Brad Anderson (below), this movie continues his winning streak of creating a fascinating oeuvre in which each film is different (from the mainstream and from each other) but con-sistently engaging.

Take a look at Anderson's resume, and you'll see him jumping from genre to genre as though playing hopscotch, with nary a miss in the bunch. Some films work better than others, but all are well enough conceived and executed to qualify for quality stuff. Comedy to horror, thrillers to character studies, drama to rom-com-cum-sci-fi, Anderson has been there, done that and moved on.

With The Call, the filmmaker has his biggest budget for some time (maybe ever..?), and he's put it to good use. Here we are in the Los Angeles area 911 head-quarters, known as "The Hive," with Halle Berry (on poster, top, and bottom, center), as an operator who's very good but maybe gets a little too close to her callers. After one young woman is abducted and murdered while on the phone with our co-heroine, six months later another young woman (Abigail Breslin, below, right) is kidnapped, and the phone-call-cum-chase is on.

Step by step, the movie is surprisingly adept at keeping us nailed to the screen while making rather good sense (not always a mainstay of the thriller genre) regarding place, character and event. Things happen intelligently and quickly, as new characters (like the one played by Michael Imperioli, below) are introduced and dealt with.

Only in the final section does logic and gray matter lose out to some sort of: what? Producer-inspired insistence that everything must come down to a face-off between our two heroines and the bad guy? I'm just guessing, but the ending -- while done with snappy style and enough pizzazz to carry us along, sailing on the good will that the movie has so far built up -- is ludicrous and unbelievable.

Overall, though, The Call is so exciting, well-written (by Richard D'Ovidio), -directed and -acted that I think you'll be (mostly) glad you watched. (That's Morris Chestnut, left, with David Otunga, doing the police thing, above.)

From TriStar Pictures (it's always good to see that flying horse again) and running a crisp 94 minutes, the movie came to DVD and Blu-ray (on which it looks quite sleek) this week, for sale and rental.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION: Jamie Kastner's nostalgic doc with booty & a beat

A very fun, pretty funny, uber-nostaligic documentary that offers up an interesting theory -- political, social, revolutionary -- of the 1970s disco craze (and then politely puts it to rest), THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION is shoo-in viewing for gays of a certain age, celebrity addicts or anyone of any sexual persuasion who liked to dance themselves crazy back in the day. It combines everything from talking heads to archival footage, social theory (most noticeably and intelligently from Alice Echols) and -- ah, yes -- those famous disco songs and performers to silly, sweet effect that will probably have you tapping your toes and grinning fairly often throughout.

The brainchild of one Jamie Kastner (shown at left), who wrote and directed, perhaps the oddest and most interesting feature of the doc is his introduction of a trio of "masterminds," as he calls them (shown below and at bottom) -- a black man, a gay man and a woman, supposedly representing the three groups for whom disco accomplished the most "liberation." These three appear regularly throughout the film, though it seems more and more clear as the movie progresses that Kastner sees these masterminds as pseudo: comic material rather than anything remotely real or genuinely important. And for those viewers who might have taken all this seriously, his question to many of the talking heads at the film's close makes it more than clear that the disco revolution may have been fun and different and ground-breaking in certain ways, but it had little to do with revolution or protest.

Instead, it and the film that covers it, are all about beat, drugs, the expending of energy, and selling records (those, junior, are what we had to listen to, back in the day). Reference is made to France under the Nazis, Swing Kids and other historical matters, but what we really want to hear and learn about are all those great songs.

Fortunately, the filmmaker gives them to us, if not full-length, with enough time so we recall why they were such hits. Here come Gloria Gaynor (in the penultimate photo, below), Thelma Houston (at right), Martha Wash and Maxine Nightingale -- to name a few, showing us their style, then and now.

And while reference is made to other big names ("To get from Aretha Franklin to Lil' Kim, you can't understand this without disco!"), we pretty much keep with the disco beat.

The funniest section, in fact, may be that involving The Village People (above) trying to convince us that their songwriters/
composers had no ability to handle double entendres. We always suspected these guys were on the dumb side, but, please!

We also learn that, for maybe the first time in modern music history, songs found themselves listed on the Billboard magazine chart due to their being played not on radio but in the clubs that were forming around the country. After that, of course, radio DJs joined in the celebration. When, as ever, the music industry -- just like the movie industry regarding any popular new idea -- tried to jump on the disco bandwagon, the music grew shoddier and shoddier. And when the nation's, maybe the world's, most famous disco club, Studio 54, came on the scene (with its paean to celebrity, drugs, and shutting "ordinary" people out) one day, nearly overnight it seemed, disco disappeared.

The movie finally evokes all of this -- plus a nod to Ecclesiastes ("There is a time to expand and a time to contract") -- as it combines history, sleaze, music, energy, dance and drugs. It's a lot of fun, a crock of shit, and above all a great nostalgia trip, and it opens this Friday, June 28, in eleven cities across the country.

Here in New York City, it plays at the Quad Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's NoHo 7. Look for it, as well, in San Francisco at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema, in Berkeley atthe Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, in Minneapolis at the Landmark Lagoon Cinema, in Seattle at the Landmark Varsity Theater, in Miami at the O Cinema, in Fort Lauderdale at the Cinema Paradiso. in  Palm Springs at the Camelot Theater, in Portland at the Clinton Street Theater and in Columbus at the Gateway Film Center.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Wainwrights honor mom with Lunson's SING ME the SONGS THAT SAY I LOVE YOU

It's an odd but interesting experience to first become acquainted with a songwriter/
performer via the memorial concert that honors her life and death. Yet that's how it was for TrustMovies, as he watched the new musical documentary SING ME THE SONGS THAT SAY I LOVE YOU: A CONCERT FOR KATE McGARRIGLE. He'd heard McGarrigle's name over time but did not know she was the mother of Rufus and Martha Wainwright, but he had also not heard any of her songs that he was aware of. So the movie proved to be a kind of simultaneous introduction and good-bye.

Speaking quite honestly, it took me some time during this 108-minute film -- co-written (with the Wainwright siblings), directed and edited by Lian Lunson (shown at left) -- to warm up to the subject and her music. I finally did, more and more as the documentary moved on, and I am very glad I saw it. I believe that Sing/Love/Kate (as I'll call it for the sake of space) will prove something major for McGarrigle's many fans and might bring in some new ones like me, if they can be persuaded to see it. Ms Lunson has shot her film and the concert from which it is mostly taken in both color and black-and-white. Initially, it seems that color is used for the concert footage and black-and-white for the interviews and archival footage. But this division eventually crumbles, as black-and-white is used more and more often throughout.

Archival footage -- moving pictures and stills, even a letter from Daddy -- are shown and sometimes spoken, often against the music and song that McGarrigle created, and between the performance of the many musical numbers, we hear the assembled parties talk about Kate and her life and her music. (I realize that fans and friends will undoubtedly know who all these people are, but I wish that Ms Lunson has identified them more often as her movie unfurled.)

Evidently, this is one big musical family, where everyone was expected to join in, and some of the remembrances, especially by Rufus, are odd, charming and funny. Despite all this, the movie, so far as regards Kate McGarrigle, comes across as surprisingly impersonal. At the end of it, I had little more knowledge of the woman than I had at the beginning, though I at least have begun to know her music. This may be because the filmmakers already knew all this information, as do probably her many friends and fans. But movie audiences with less history could have used a boost.

Still, as this is basically a concert film, it's the music that counts most, and here, the movie hits it in spades. There are songs not only written by Kate McGarrigle but by others in the family (Heart Like a Wheel), and the performers who sing them include not only family members such as Rufus, Martha and Kate's sisters Anna and Jane but friends like Emmylou Harris and Norah Jones (above) -- not to mention a surprise visit and song from Jimmy Fallon and another wonderful performer who had me asking, "Is that a man or a woman?" When the end credits rolled I realized who this was: Justin Vivian Bond.

Some of the songs, to my taste were were a little tiresome and repetitive (you can often complete Kate's lyrics upon hearing the song for the first time), but others seemed quite wonderful -- Mendocino, Proserpina (the final song that Kate wrote, a lovely rendition of the Persephone myth), and that terrific song by Ms/Mr. Bond. Some of the harmonies we hear are simply gorgeous, and each performer -- family member or friend -- has his/her own distinctive style, with Rufus' coming through perhaps the strongest.

This fellow (shown above with Martha and further above, solo) has always struck me as something of a drama queen, but seeing as how this is all about his late mother, why not? Tears flow rather copiously from many of the performers throughout the film, until the concert doubles as a kind of musical "wake." And the story told here of Kate's final time is undeniably moving -- as is the final photo we see of the artist as a young woman, below.

Sing/Love/Kate -- a Canadian film via Horse Pictures that runs 108 minutes -- opens today for a two-week stint at New York City's Film Forum. Elsewhere? I would hope so -- certainly around Canada, if not the USA. I can't find the web site for Horse Pictures to check further, so if any of you know where that can be found, inform me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Netflix streaming tip: The French TV series SPIRAL offers cops, judges, (in)justice and some grandly dark entertainment. Watch it!

If you, like I, have been hearing for some time how very good is the French TV series SPIRAL (Engrenages) -- all about (among other subjects) top-to-bottom corruption in government, judiciary and police -- you might as well go ahead and have a look. You'll soon be hooked. This series seems nearly as good, though quite different from, the superb Danish TV hit, Borgen. Having just completed the first season, consisting of eight approximately 47-minute episodes, I can tell you than Spiral is much uglier, darker and more involved with grizzly stuff than is Borgen -- which is concerned with how an entire country, as well as the family of its Prime Minister, is run.

The first thing you may notice, as we often do with European films, is how attractive but-in-the-manner-of-real-people is the cast. Created by (and with most of the first season also written by) Alexandra Clert (at left) and Guy-Patrick Sainderichin (below, an actor whom we've seen in two of Mia Hansen-Løve 's movies:  Father of My Children and Good-bye First Love), the series revels in its characters' hypocrisy
and denial, even as it presents them to us so fully, richly and believably that we end up in their corner -- rooting for even some of the sleazier among them. This is no small accomplishment. The mistakes and misgivings of these people are the same ones we so often possess -- husband/wife differences (sometimes rather enormous), loyalty to a friend vs loyalty to the truth, ambition and how far one can go in stalking it -- so the hot water the characters sometimes jump into may seem to us a little too comfortably warm and cozy.

The series is based around a particular police department in Paris and the female captain who runs it (a smart and sassy Caroline Proust, above, left), the judge (Philippe Duclos) and the prosecutor (played by sweet hunk Grégory Fitoussi, below, who's currently in the new World War Z) who work with the police -- the French system is quite different from ours, and part of the enjoyment of the series comes from learning about this -- and the various criminal cases that occupy these three in tandem.

We follow not just one crime, but several simultaneously that weave in and out and sometimes connect to the personal lives of our not-quite heroes. This gives us the chance to see all these characters, including some vicious criminals, in various situations that help them grow more understandable and real as the series wends onward.

Sprial is definitely a police procedural, but it's also much more: a character study, a slice of life (high to low) and a look at Paris from a view that tourists never get near (if they're lucky). Some cases move quickly to some form of settlement and justice (or injustice); others takes their time. Perhaps the most interesting character on view is the gorgeous redheaded defense lawyer (Audrey Fleurot, below) whose ambition seems as limitless as her motives are opaque.

The series opens with the remains of a grizzly murder of a formerly beautiful and now horribly disfigured young woman. What really happened we learn only at the close of this season, but the horror and guilt spreads outward and upwards into more than the season will hold. There will be further explorations to come. Yet one does not leave these episodes (or the entire season itself) feeling empty-handed and cheated as did viewers of the U.S. remake of the Scandinavian series The Killing. Instead, we're made aware of implications that keep the people and events spiraling outwards into ever more complex forms.

The Spiral series is smartly written, acted and directed, achieving maximum potential from every situation, performance and moment. There is genuine surprise and shock along the way, and some fervid emotional jolts, as well -- and these comes as often from the exploration of character as from the events on view. The series seems to be deepening as it goes along. I'm certainly going to finish it, and I suspect you will, too.

Right now Netflix is streaming 28 episodes: eight in Season One, eight more in Season Two, and twelve in Season Three.